Exxon And Biofuels: The Oil Giant Sees Promise In Algae

Production of advanced biofuels made from algae could grow rapidly in the late 2020s, according to Synthetic Genomics, the biotech company that has formed a partnership with ExxonMobil (XOM) to develop the fuel.

The two companies said last week that by 2025 they were aiming to set up one or more demonstration plants to produce 10,000 barrels a day of diesel and jet fuel from genetically modified algae. Synthetic Genomics argues that scaling up production could be relatively quick.

The aim is to produce biofuels that will be cost competitive with conventional oil-based fuels at crude prices of about $60 to $65 a barrel.

Exxon started working with Synthetic Genomics, founded by genome research pioneer Craig Venter, in 2009. Its aim was to develop gene editing on algae to make them produce versions of diesel and jet fuel while avoiding the problems of traditional biofuels, in particular the competition with food production.

Today’s biofuels generally come from food crops such as corn and sugar, and so compete for agricultural land and fresh water. Algae can be grown in concrete ponds of salt water, on barren or desert land. Because the algae trap carbon from the air, the forms of diesel and jet fuel they produce have lower net emissions than conventional fuels refined from crude.


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